How Lean Startup Is Changing High School Education

How Lean Startup Is Changing High School Education

Lean Startup Conference LogoThis post originally appeared on the Lean Startup Company blog, where Noble Impact VP of Product Erica Swallow guest blogged about Lean Startup in the high school ecosystem in anticipation of her IGNITE talk at the 2015 Lean Startup Conference.

All across the world, educators are seeking ways to better engage students and prepare them for life after high school. In poll after poll, students tell us that their education doesn’t seem relevant; they don’t see a purpose behind the daily grind, the homework, the standardized tests.

For some, Lean Startup is a part of the solution.

The Problem

So, what is it about high school that disengages students? Take a look at most high school classrooms across America, and you’ll find the answer. Students sit chair behind chair, desk behind desk, in a seemingly endless matrix, wall to wall, while at the front of the room, a teacher commands the class and delivers content, only stopping to answer the occasional question.

Teamwork is practically unheard of, and students are asked to memorize formulas and historical dates to regurgitate on tests that will rank them within their class, school, and the entire national education system.

Students aren’t ignorant, though – they see the difference between the education system and what the “real world” looks like. They want an education that will set them up for success in life after high school, not one that will deflate their creativity year-by-year, until their only hope is to graduate and go to college or get a job.

We must give students a better system, one that is deserving of their time, efforts, and talents.

Coaching Up the Classroom

Noble Impact Scholars

Noble Impact scholars choose words that
resonate with them about the entrepreneurial journey.

What would it look like if we flipped the classroom equation and put students at the center of their education? What if we challenged students to determine the course of their own educational journeys, to customize it based on their interests and the problems they ultimately want to solve in the world? Instead of teachers, we’d act more as coaches, facilitators of learning.

Students at Noble Impact take a purposed-based approach to their work, and they frequently ask, “Why?” We train students to dig deep – whether they are in the classroom, at one of our out-of-school events, or at home – to question the purpose behind what they’re doing. When students see the purpose in their work, they find relevance, and they’re excited to contribute.

The Lean Canvas and Lean Startup methodology have been invaluable tools for those exercises.

Applying Lean Startup to the High School Setting

Greta Kresse and Olivia Fitzgibbon Noble Impact Scholars

Noble Impact scholars Greta Kresse and Olivia Fitzgibbon white board
at an event about challenging the existing opportunity gap in education.

Lean Startup as a business development philosophy prioritizes speed and learning over perfection – it asks the entrepreneur to define success in terms of “learning how to solve the customer’s problem,” as Eric Ries, author of “The Lean Startup,” puts it.

Lean Startup, then, is a natural fit in a project-based learning environment, where students are challenged to work on projects in line with their interests and the problems they want to solve. Lean Startup teaches students to focus on people, to understand what a customer is and how to solve his or her problems.

Instead of sitting in chairs all day long, students are asked to “get out of the building” to do customer research, define a problem, build MVPs (minimum viable products), and validate the assumptions their business models rely upon. Students aren’t used to adults handing over the reigns, but with the right facilitation, students can and do shine when they’re asked to build, measure, and learn.

Building Noble Impact Initiatives

At Noble Impact, students work in many different environments with Lean Startup methodology, both in the classroom and beyond.

Last year, in partnership with the Clinton School of Public Service, for example, we launched the country’s first-ever High School Startup Weekend, devoted solely to high school entrepreneurs. With 80 student participants in grades 9-12, the event saw ideas that included an online homework management tool, a portable storage locker company for outdoor events, a nail polish pen, and a “don’t forget your cell phone” smartwatch app, among others.

Innovation isn’t just an after-hours affair, though. Students also work on business ideas in class using Lean. At eStem Public Charter Schools in Little Rock, Arkansas, for example, Noble Impact scholars work with local businesses and on their own ideas, interviewing customers, mocking up MVP ideas, and actually building their own businesses. In fact, we currently expose Lean Startup to students in grades 5-12 and will soon expand all the way to kindergarten.

Bolstering High School Entrepreneurs

Sydney Brazil Noble Impact Entrepreneur

High school entrepreneur Sydney Brazil founded her own “donut holery”
called The Hole Thing through her Noble Impact coursework.

High school entrepreneurs are treated as rare creatures in our society, probably because we crush the creativity out of them in their day-to-day schoolwork. I get to work with a lot of fresh minds through Noble Impact, though, and we teach them that anyone can contribute to society or solve a problem, as long as they’re willing to put in the work and research.

I’ve had particular glee watching one entrepreneur, Sydney Brazil, flourish in our entrepreneurial environment. She used Lean Canvas to turn her idea for a donut hole business into a reality by founding The Hole Thing, Little Rock, Arkansas’s first “donut holery.” She makes the most delicious donut holes to ever grace the earth, from lemon lavender to chocolate chip cookie.

She started her journey much like any other entrepreneur twice her age (she was 15 when she got started) – she built a business plan, pitched at some local startup pitch competitions, caught the eye of potential partners, and launched a minimum viable product. Instead of buying a store location and setting up shop, Sydney went lean. Her MVP came in the form of a partnership with local restaurant Copper Grill, in which her company’s donut holes appeared on the restaurant’s dessert menu, alongside their house ice cream. Copper Grill also let Sydney use their professional grade kitchen to prepare the holes. The partnership enabled her to test her concept for donut holes, see if there was actually demand, and collect sales data about which donut holes were selling better. Build, measure, learn.

In Sydney’s words, the “grown up business community” has completely embraced her, Copper Grill and beyond. That’s what excites me as an education reformer. We need more connectivity between students and their communities, because business leaders and mentors are the ones who open up opportunities for students to learn and get experience. When a student has an idea for an MVP through a Lean Canvas exercise, it is local community that can help make that plan a reality.

Lean Startup Around the Country

Hawken School Entrepreneurship Educators Workshop

Entrepreneur and educator Jeanine Esposito presents a Business Model Canvas
at Hawken School’s summer entrepreneurship educators workshop.

Noble Impact isn’t the only organization teaching Lean Startup in the K-12 education system.

DECA, one of the largest co-curricular student club organizations, rolled out the Lean Canvas this school year for all of its state and national competitions related to entrepreneurship. Students used to write full 20+ page business plans, and now they’re going lean.

Likewise, educators at Hawken School, a private PS-12 school in Gates Mills, Ohio, is one of the first organizations I’ve worked with that not only teaches students about Lean Startup, but also trains teachers from across the country how to use and teach Lean Startup in their own schools. This summer, Hawken educators Doris Korda and Tim Desmond held the first-ever Hawken School Educators Workship for Entrepreneurial Studies at Babson College and made sure that each educator left having built at least one Lean Business Model Canvas.

Preparing Students For Their Futures

I strongly believe that it is our duty as world citizens to make sure that our children have the best education possible, so that they are prepared to thrive in an ever-changing society after they leave the halls of their hometown high schools.

From what I’ve witnessed, there are educators all across this country, focused on changing the education system, so that our students are prepared to not only thrive in, but also change the world.

Lean Startup, for many students, is the catalyst that gets them engaged and on that path. I encourage all educators to give it a try and to consider what it means when we ask students to take the reigns of their own educational journey. To build, to measure, to learn, and to rise to their fullest potential.

5 Questions To Consider When Making The College Vs. Startup Decision

5 Questions To Consider When Making The College Vs. Startup Decision

StartupDad LogoThis post is part of our StartupDad Series, in which David Moody — father of a teen entrepreneur and founder of the StartupDad blog — explores the trials, tribulations, joys, and achievements that young entrepreneurs and their friends and family face.

Not long ago Gwen (my spouse), Joshua (our teen entrepreneur), and I went through the process of deciding whether Joshua would attend college right out of high school or run his angel funded tech company full time. We get quite a few questions on this so I thought it might be beneficial for both parents and teens if I walked you through the process and the key questions our family considered.

Let me set the stage for this commentary with some background. Joshua’s company was selected as one of three finalists in the ARK Challenge business accelerator when he was a junior in high school and acquired $150k in angel funding as a result. This was great, but the company would need more funding to be successful, so it was only the beginning. Gwen was pretty strong in her opinion that Joshua should go to college. Less risk and he’ll need the degree to get a job someday, she reasoned. I had come around to thinking that college was still a good idea but that it didn’t have to happen in the traditional time frame given his current business opportunity. Joshua placed a high value on his Catholic High education but was far more interested in product design and development than tolerating what he thought was an inefficient higher education system where he would get very little of the practical experience he needed.

1. IF HE DOESN’T GO TO COLLEGE RIGHT AWAY, CAN HE MAKE IT ON HIS OWN?
In Joshua’s case, we had little doubt about this one. He’d been making his own money since he was 13 by hacking the iPhones of his classmates (a practice Gwen and I stopped when we found out), repairing smartphones and computers, and editing pictures and videos. He never asked for an allowance.

2. BEYOND SURVIVAL, DID JOSHUA HAVE THE SKILLS, KNOWLEDGE, AND MINDSET TO LAUNCH A SELF-DIRECTED CAREER?
No! He still had so much to learn about technology, project management, dealing with people, and a whole host of soft skills that come only from experience. Yet, he had a burning passion for the work and a drive to succeed. We had little doubt that, while it would be a struggle at times, he would figure it out.

3. WERE THERE COLLEGES AND UNIVERSITIES WITH MAJORS THAT FIT HIS BROAD INTEREST IN TECHNOLOGY AND ENTREPRENEURSHIP?
Yes, some, at least on paper. The number of universities offering entrepreneurship programs has exploded right along with the public’s interest in technology, high profile entrepreneurs and the new found cool factor in being a geek. What we found in our research was that very few of these programs incorporated real-world experience with academics and even fewer had a culture where science, engineering, design, and business were truly integrated. As much as they touted that students and professors in various colleges did joint projects, the typical silos still existed.

4. WAS IT IMPORTANT TO ATTEND A COLLEGE IN AN ENTREPRENEURIAL CITY?
Absolutely! Because I am somewhat familiar with entrepreneurial cities around the country and the resources they offer, I knew it was important that the school be located in one of these cities. Even if the academic program proved to be less experiential than anticipated, access to the entrepreneurial community would provide access to talent, opportunity and experience. Our research of colleges focused on highly ranked programs of study where science, engineering, design, and entrepreneurship were highly integrated in schools located highly ranked entrepreneurial cites.

5. WHILE STILL IN HIGH SCHOOL, WAS BUSINESS OR GOOD GRADES FOR COLLEGE THE TOP PRIORITY?
This was a tough one for us. There was a constant balancing act between spending time on the startup and studying. His high school, Catholic High, was demanding and Joshua took great pride in doing well there. We felt our role as parents was to help Joshua learn how to make these decisions on a case by case basis, with the help of some basic guiding principles, so that he could learn the skill of prioritizing multiple things that all seemed important. Thus, school was not always the top priority and we accepted lower grades and test scores that we knew might keep Joshua from being accepted into certain universities or hurt his qualification for scholarships.

THE TAKEAWAY: This was, and still is, a challenging situation for us all. Like most tough decisions, with the “college vs startup” decision, you have to ask yourself the hard, penetrating questions and not be afraid of the honest answer. Having some guiding principles to help you decide and keep you on track are important. Parents and teen entrepreneurs must honestly assess each path and the preparation, passion and skill it will take to be successful with each one. As with most situations in life and business, if you don’t manage them, they will manage you.

A Mentor’s Role In Managing Risk

A Mentor’s Role In Managing Risk

StartupDad LogoThis post is part of our StartupDad Series, in which David Moody — father of a teen entrepreneur and founder of the StartupDad blog — explores the trials, tribulations, joys, and achievements that young entrepreneurs and their friends and family face.

Recently, for about 30 seconds, I witnessed something that reminded me of the role of startup mentors.

I was leaving the library in Fayetteville, Arkansas and noticed a mother and her young daughter walking along the natural stone that lines the beautifully landscaped flower beds outside the building. The young girl appeared to be around three or four years old. She was walking along the rock boundaries of the elevated flower beds. Her mother walked along beside her, just below on the ground, with her arms stretched toward her daughter, just in case she started to fall. I was struck by the fearlessness of the young girl. She seemed undaunted by the potential risks of walking on a narrow, elevated ledge. Her mother mitigated the risk of injury by walking just below her on the ground, allowing her daughter to experience what it was like to be that far off the ground on a narrow ledge. Because of the trust the daughter had in her mother, she did not fear falling.

This reminded me of entrepreneurs, especially young ones, who don’t know, or choose to ignore, the risk of failure. They charge ahead to save the world, create the next great product or discover something the rest of us don’t know exists, without regard for their own personal or financial well being. They do these things simply because they believe they can and failure is really not even part of the thought process. We could all use a dose of that way of thinking. It’s liberating.

The mother reminded me of what good mentors are supposed to do for entrepreneurs. If an entrepreneur is lucky, he or she will have at least one really good mentor early in the entrepreneurial journey. The mom did not panic when she saw her daughter in that situation. A worried reaction may have startled the daughter and caused her to fall. Instead, she let her daughter have the experience, guided and reassured her along the way and made sure that, if she did fall, someone would be there to break her fall and help her up … to try again.

As a mentor to these young risk takers, I believe that is exactly what we are supposed to do — assist them in the process of managing risk. Stay close, provide our best guidance, let them learn through experience which will include failure, and don’t let them fall so hard that they don’t get up and try again.

As the father of a young entrepreneur, I experience the phenomenon described above with the mom and daughter, in a different way, every day. Joshua’s confidence and fearlessness are simply part of who he is. As his parent and business mentor, I have chosen to embrace his fearlessness, but put boundaries in place to limit his risk of failing so horribly that he’s afraid to try again. He has seen that I am not afraid for him to pursue his ideas and that I have confidence in him. I believe this further bolsters his fearlessness. Like a good mentor, I walk just a step behind, in case he starts to fall off the ledge.

THE TAKEAWAY: Young entrepreneurs – Be fearless and seek out good mentors for support. For, families, friends, and mentors of these young startup leaders – support their trapeze act, but be ready with the net.

Image courtesy of Flickr, Miki Yoshihito

Does The 10,000 Hours Mastery Rule Apply To Entrepreneurship?

Does The 10,000 Hours Mastery Rule Apply To Entrepreneurship?

StartupDad LogoThis post is part of our StartupDad Series, in which David Moody — father of a teen entrepreneur and founder of the StartupDad blog — explores the trials, tribulations, joys, and achievements that young entrepreneurs and their friends and family face.

In his book “Outliers,” author Malcolm Gladwell focuses on external factors that pave the path to success. Along with these external factors he also suggests that it takes approximately 10,000 hours to “master” a skill or set of skills. He cites a variety of examples in sports, music and business to support his theory. I believe this theory also applies to entrepreneurial success.

10,000 hours. That’s approximately 15 hours per week, every week for thirteen years. Most well-known athletes started playing their sport from five to ten years of age, and with lots of practice and good coaching, reach the “master” level in their late teens and mid 20’s, just as they are beginning their pro career or making an Olympic team. The data tells us that most entrepreneurs are around 40 years of age when they start their first company.

Most people begin their entrepreneurial training in college with the exposure to business courses, some cool technology, or other experiences that get them thinking entrepreneurially. It takes another 15-20 years of education and work experience to develop the vast skill set, relationships, connections, maturity, risk tolerance, and confidence for entrepreneurs to start their own company.

If it really takes 15 years or more to hone the skills needed for entrepreneurial success, then parents and educators should make a more purposeful effort to identify potential entrepreneurial talent early. Once identified, young would-be entrepreneurs should be exposed to opportunities and surrounded with the resources they need to “master” the broad array of skills, and prepare them for the startup life by the time they are in their mid to late 20’s. This also coincides with scientific data regarding brain development and more mature thinking.

Joshua, our teen entrepreneur, is well on his way down this path. Once we realized he was displaying entrepreneurial traits at around age thirteen, we became more intentional about nurturing his passion and gifts with opportunities for business education, programs, contacts, and experiential learning. He was doing this on his own before we finally realized his entrepreneurial traits and he has continued to educate himself and gain experience. Despite having been at this for six years now, I suspect he will be in his mid 20’s before he has attained the skills and experience that will significantly increase his odds of success in the startup life. He is on a faster track than most at his age because he is not in college at this point and fully focused on his business endeavors. Fifteen years may seem like a long time to a teenager, but it is still a decade or two earlier than most first time business owners feel confident enough to go out on their own.

Although Joshua is on his own at 19 years of age, we continue to enjoy watching him grow in knowledge and experience and do all we can to help and support him, along with the network of mentors, advisors and supporters he has developed on his own. When he hits his mid 20’s, look out!

THE TAKEAWAY: While there are exceptions, the 10,000 hour theory seems to apply to young entrepreneurs. There are simply too many examples in comparable areas of mastery to ignore it. Young entrepreneurs – this is much more challenging than you probably thought it was at first. So what! If that’s all it takes for you to give up, you weren’t going to make it anyway. If you have the drive, passion and willingness to do what it takes to build on your gifts and develop the necessary skills, mentors, advisors and supporters, you can live the startup life. For those of you who take up the challenge, “Welcome to the Community.”

Header image courtesy of Flickr, BusinessSarah

How We Knew Our Son Was An Entrepreneur At Age 13

How We Knew Our Son Was An Entrepreneur At Age 13

StartupDad LogoThis post is part of our StartupDad Series, in which David Moody — father of a teen entrepreneur and founder of the StartupDad blog — explores the trials, tribulations, joys, and achievements that young entrepreneurs and their friends and family face.


Our son, Joshua, has always been curious about how things worked and, as he grew older, had his own ideas about how things could be improved. It was obvious that he saw the world around him differently than most people. While many of us fly through our day taking many of the products and services we use for granted, Joshua always seemed to have an idea for a better design or a new product.

Joshua Moody Young Giant Picture
At the age of 7 or 8, Joshua was bringing home drawings with elements that were unusual for his age.
When he was very young, he would take the toys in Happy Meals apart to see how they worked. When he drew pictures for school projects, he portrayed unusual angles and multiple dimensions. In the picture to the left depicting a giant, for example, Joshua utilized foreground and background elements, showcasing a sense of spatial recognition at an age younger than average (he was 7 or 8). Engineers also have this trait.

He’s also always been very curious about how things work. Once, when we returned from a vacation, he asked if he could have the portable Kodak camera. After downloading the pictures, it didn’t take him long to discover the power supply by completing an electronic circuit with his finger. That got his attention!

He spent much of his free time from about 11 years old until now researching electronics, learning how to code, building printed circuit boards, and learning how to do things on YouTube and Instructibles. One of his first projects was a phone charging dock with speakers made out of a cardboard box and some salvaged parts from other electronics (pictured at right).

Joshua Moody iPhone Speaker Dock
A smartphone speaker dock Joshua built out of salvaged electronic parts and a cardboard box at age 10 or 11.
He learned how to “jail break” iPhones (a hack that overrides the built-in limitations of the phone and allows for greater customization) in his early teens and sold his services to his classmates. When we discovered he was doing this, which was followed by a discussion of why it was a bad idea, I asked him how much he charged and how he knew how to price it. He replied that his pricing varied a little bit because he charged an amount that made it worth it for him, but also that his classmates could afford without having to ask their parents for the money and run the risk of being told “no”. I knew then that we had an entrepreneur on our hands; Joshua was 13 when I finally made the connection.

The point here is that I’ve owned and led startup companies, and work with startup businesses and entrepreneurs almost daily in my consulting practice, and yet, I didn’t see the signs of Joshua having entrepreneurial traits for quite some time. I didn’t know what to look for. This realization is one of the reasons I now write and speak on this subject.

If one of our kids displayed extraordinary talent in athletics, art, music, or had a high level of intelligence at an early age, those signs would be obvious to us and we’d likely seek out programs, teachers and coaches to nurture those gifts. With young, potential entrepreneurs, those talents are far more subtle and more difficult to identify. Joshua’s dismantling of Happy Meals, cameras, and phones could have been considered destructive behavior, and watching “how to” videos on the Internet a waste of time. Turns out, he was educating himself.

Here are some signs that you may have a young entrepreneur on your hands:

  1. Curiosity about how things work.
  2. Seeing problems and solutions. Seeing the world differently – Noticing things others don’t. (Caution: This can also lead to strong opinions, fierce independence and significant confidence. This all sounds good until, as a parent, you have to manage and direct it. I’ve always told my wife that our kids having good communication skills when they were young was cute until they became teenagers and used it as a weapon against us. Some days I think we should have never encouraged them to speak.)
  3. Maturing problem solving skills. Are you witnessing a pattern of problem solving that evolves into dealing with more and more complex issues as your child matures?
  4. The willingness to use their free time to research how things work, to understand new technologies, and to teach themselves how to do things.
  5. A sense of economics and the value of things.
  6. A personality that allows them to pitch their ideas and get others interested in buying their products or services or helping with developing the solution.

As challenging as all these signs may appear to be, the one thing we don’t want to do as parents is to stifle the creativity and innovative thinking of our kids. The system will do enough of that.